Articles tagged ui


It’s not enough for an architect to be creative. They have to do more than just define a space or design the look of a structure. They have to ensure that the structure is sound. This requires a strong foundation, not only in the creative process but also in engineering. As much time as Frank Gehry might spend taping together pieces of paper he has to also make sure those pieces of paper will stand up against this little thing called physics.

The same goes for the industrial designer—Jony Ive balances a strong creative process with one that is inseparable from engineering. The construction, strength, and manufacturing of materials along with an understanding of how the elements are housed within his designed case are a package deal. Form follows function—and he has to really understand the function to create the form.

The architect and the industrial designer are part of a well-rounded design discipline where visual creativity is not enough. They must understand the context of their work, which requires them to be near-experts in physics and engineering.

In digital design, we have moved away from the well-rounded designer to hyper-specialization, with different designers with specific specialties focusing on their single area. But digital design, like architecture and industrial design, should be a well-rounded discipline. As a digital designer, you need to be a near-expert in adjacent spaces to be successful.

So what areas, besides design, does a digital designer need to excel in to be successful? I believe there are four key areas of focus. These are the physics and engineering disciplines for the digital designer.

User Experience

Everyone creating products needs to be thinking about the user, but the digital designer needs to be able to act on it. Knowing how to talk to users, test users, and getting thoughts and opinions is crucial to realizing what the product needs to be. Folks dedicated to gathering this for you are helpful but not always an option. And once you have that info it is just as important to be able to take those findings and distilling them into simple, readable, and relevant diagrams for stakeholders.


Designers don’t normally think of themselves as researchers, but without researching the world where a product will live, a digital designer will find themselves hitting walls left and right. Researching the industry and landscape gives context for how it will be seen in that environment. Designing an experience for the financial industry is very different from designing an experience for the medical industry. Each has its own expectations and constraints. Designers need to be able to learn about a new area independently and then think critically about that area, almost as if they are living in it.


This one might be the most difficult for a designer—business is not a required course at most art schools (any art schools?). Businesses are constantly considering how to gain new customers or sell more services and products to existing customers. The digital designer’s work needs to support the same goals and strategies as the business to help them succeed. Selling design cannot only rely on aesthetics, but how a particular design will deliver the results the business is looking for. Digital designers should work more closely with the business to learn how they work. For starters, pick up a classic business book like the Essential Drucker—it will introduce the basics and the language of business.


How a digital designer’s work is implemented is just as important as how it’s designed. A digital designer needs to know how applications and websites are built, what they can do, what they can’t do, and how it all gets made. This is not a small ask for a digital designer but it’s a necessary one. The best thing for a digital designer to do is to get in the trenches a little bit and learn to code. Maybe not at a level that their development team is working at, but enough to understand how development works and design a better suited experience.

Digital design is multifaceted and complex. A well-rounded digital designer needs to understand all those facets to create the best solution, considering the user, their research, the business, the implementation, and, of course, the design.

Alex Carr is the Director of Creative Services at Maark, where he leads a team of illustrators and designers focused on marketing, branding, and product design for our clients.


It’s 2018. You want to make intuitive, branded, and visually engaging software, and your UI team can get you there. But the process requires everyone involved to contribute according to their expertise. Ultimately, though, it’s your input around the business’s goals that will help your UI team make a great software experience for you and your customers.

Alex Carr is the Director of Creative Services at Maark, where he leads a team of illustrators and designers focused on marketing, branding, and product design for our clients.

Let's Never Touch Anything Ever Again  

Posted by Jason Ocker

Let’s Never Touch Anything Ever Again

At some point, the trend of everything as a device and the trend toward spatial interfaces must meet. That’s just Euclidean geometry. Or Calvinism. I always mix those up.

Of course, creating applications in the wake of either of these trends is difficult enough, but doing them at the point where they coalesce seems extremely daunting.

Enter Greenhouse. Its creators tout it as a “creative coding toolkit” for developers to more easily design unified spatial interface experiences that can move across devices. From the website:

Greenhouse is the only SDK available that enables creative coders and engineers to rapidly prototype spatial interfaces: multi-screen, multi-user, multi-device interfaces with gestural and spatial interaction. Graphics and geometry systems enable pixels to fluidly move and to be accurately rendered across any screen, plus networking and multi-application frameworks, which allow multiple users, applications, and machines to seamlessly interact.

The above video also comes from their website and shows various users working across multiple devices without touching them, moving elements from one screen to the next like conductors or wizards. It’s pretty cool, although the actions still seem overly deliberate and tentative. But that’s just the state of an art that hasn’t yet met the legal definition of life.

All I know is that right now I’m sitting at an archaic desk at the risk of blood clots and a shortened lifespan, pounding away awkwardly at a keyboard with wrists riddled with carpal tunnel. So the idea is exciting to me.

They Will Show Us The World

Posted by Jason Ocker

Since the Dawn of Marketing, companies have tried to get our attention. Tried to get in our homes. Tried to get in our heads. Intrusive bastards.

Then software came along, and suddenly we were living and working inside products in a way that we never really had before. I mean, sure you plough a field inside a John Deere tractor, but you’re relationship with that product is a bit more circumscribed than, say, your relationship with Microsoft Windows.

And then software became the portal to the Internet.

And then the Internet became the world.

And that made software our portal to the world.

Of course, there are uncountable interworking, siloed, and antagonistic software experiences for navigating this connected world. Apple is famous for attempting a high level of control of the connected experience with its products, but even that is pretty confined compared to how many software hoops must be jumped through in a connected world.

Lately, it seems as if companies want a little more, though.

Facebook Home wants to be our filter for the entire mobile experience, regardless of the device we use.

Xbox wants to be our filter for the entire home entertainment experience, regardless of our TV and set-top boxes.

And Google Glass, well, it wants to be the filter for our entire experience. Google was never one to think small.

There are a couple of ways you can cut this cake. Certainly, there’s something to be said for simplifying our interactions with an increasingly complex and connected world. But there is also something uncomfortable about everything we do reduced to data points for companies to sift and capitalize on. But we’ve always been willing to offer that for a certain level of returned value. Then there’s the whole danger of extreme parochialism where we can’t see outside the bounds of our own individual connected experiences. But we can be pretty parochial anyway without all that.

Maybe it’s just a matter of companies hitting that “right” balance between helpful doorman and manipulative creep…which I guess is to just give more than they take. Or at least seem to be giving more than they take.

But then again, when they are the filters for our experiences, “seem” takes on a whole new meaning.

I guess my mood today is “cynical” and “rambling.”

Photo credit: Brandon Cripps, Flickr

I Will Write this Post Again in Ten Years

Posted by Jason Ocker

I Will Write this Post Again in Ten Years

It has become a long-hallowed writing tradition to write about how the written word is dead. Every decade it’s for a different reason. Every decade it’s an overreaction.

My turn.

Every device is getting smaller, which is great for the sake of convenience, but that means smaller buttons , whether physical or virtual, which means writing more than a few lines of text on that device is cumbersome and not worth the effort.

Everything’s going touchscreen, an amazing, intuitive interface for navigating and moving elements around. It’s a step forward in almost every way except text input, which is one of its lowest priorities.

Everything’s going multimedia, with pictures and videos being one of the predominant ways we communicate and consume content on the Internet.

Our correspondence is shortening to ludicrous levels. Twitter character limits, Facebook status updates, micro-blogging. We write as little as possible. And then we abbrvte even frthr.

Creating high-quality pictures and videos is becoming easier than writing an essay, thanks to software advances that have democratized those media, much like writing itself was democratized in the past.

Poor text.

All that’s left is for Dragon Naturally Speaking to come up with a program that transforms your spoken word into pictures and video.

As a writer, this entire post pains me.

Or, more accurately, as a borderline fogey, this entire post pains me.

I look forward to writing this post again in ten years.

Photo source: Crunchy69, Flickr

Minority Report for the Majority

Posted by Jason Ocker

Minority Report for the Majority

I can’t wait until we finally get the interface technology from Minority Report…so that we can stop talking about getting the interface technology from Minority Report. When that 2002 Steven Spielberg movie hit, we were all entranced by the way Tom Cruise interacted with the digital world in real-world space. Aside from just looking cool, there were two reasons for that.

First, it just seemed so right. I mean, why am I using a semi-orb of plastic and a plank of buttons to navigate a screen in a totally different plane or, these days, why am I just using the surfaces of my fingertips to interact with digital space behind glass?

Mostly, though, the reason the tech was so fascinating was because the men behind it were actual MIT scientists, led by John Underkoffler, who had been experimenting with the idea in a much more primitive way and used the movie money almost as an R&D budget to forward progress on the idea enough to give the movie (and the technology) more of a reality.

And now the tech has made a much bigger leap into reality. The company Oblong, of which Underkoffler is the chief scientist, has finally commercialized some of that technology to make video and data more easily sortable and analyzable in a natural way. You can read more about that here.

Also, here’s a link to a 2010 TEDtalk from Underkoffler, where he talks through the ideas and progress from the pre- and post-Minority Report days and even demos the system for the audience.

The most exciting thing about this is how much more accessible the power of computers can be to the everyday person. Touchscreens made it so that an 18-month-old can intuitively navigate a computer system without ever having seen one before, so just imagine what real-world interfaces could do for people who have spent their entire lives interacting with the real world.